Blessed be the peacemaker.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, South Slope, Sunset Park) brought the New York City Police Department’s top brass to the Greg Jackson Center, 519 Rockaway Avenue in Brownsville this week to clear the air on both police/community relations and to go over the new marijuana laws that were enacted into law in August.
Myrie said a lot of the reasoning behind the law, which decriminalizes possession of under two ounces of marijuana, was due to the high rate of marijuana arrests and incarceration in communities of color despite the fact that marijuana use is prevalent in all neighborhoods – white and black.
“The point [of the legislation] was that enforcement of the marijuana laws have disproportionately fallen on communities like Brownsville,” said Myrie, who co-hosted the event with fellow Brownsville lawmakers Assemblywoman Latrice Walker and City Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel.
“This over enforcement led to disproportionate incarceration. So we made most-small possession of marijuana a violation and it was through that lens how we could decarcerate the community.
Under state legislation passed in July, the penalty for unlawful possession of less than two ounces of marijuana has been reduced to a violation punishable by a fine—not incarceration. The new law also expunged some past convictions.
Myrie then introduced the panelists – NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan and Brownsville community activist Kwesi Johnson.
“I know there have been times we’ve had friction between the community and law enforcement, but this meeting is for us to talk to each other and not at each other,” he added.
Monahan noted that crime has continued to decrease in the city community/policing relations have improved greatly since the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the “assassinations” of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in Bedford-Stuyvesant – all in 2014.
Monahan said 2014 was a big disconnect between police and the communities they served, but with the institution to neighborhood policing, relations have vastly improved. The concept was to put the cops on the street every single day and give them the discretion to get to know communities and the local youth and to work together to stop crime, he said.
“We want cops to be problem solvers – whether it’s making an arrest or fining a peaceful solution,” said Monahan.
Monahan noted, however, one of the biggest complaints police in Brownsville get is people smoking marijuana in front of apartments and in front of young children in playgrounds.
“I want to be clear on one thing. Marijuana is not legal. It was decriminalized. It is not legal to possess marijuana. It went from a crime to be arrested for to an offense that you could get a fine for,” he said.
“When a cop catches you smoking a joint in the street, he has discretion about what he’s going to do. He could give you a summons to appear in court. If you ignore that summons, you could get a warrant,” he added.
Ampry-Samuel, in her remarks before the forum, began said it was exciting to see the top NYPD brass come before the community, which included the commanding officers from the 73rd, 75th and 77th precincts as well as the heads of Patrol Borough Brooklyn North.
“This is really exciting to have this level of conversation right here in Brownsville,” she said, noting the city council just allocated $250,000 to the 73rd precinct in order to be able to build out a community space for the purpose of building the relationship between the police and the local community.
Elizabeth Moultrie, a housing and legal affairs specialist for the Brownsville Community Justice Center, who was in attendance at the meeting, said it was good to have the chief of the NYPD to come together with local residents.
“It was good to hear what he had to say and to shed light on the decriminalization and new legislation of marijuana. We should have a lot more of these meetings,” Moultrie said.